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By Brett R. AHAP DEF Horace Greeley HS Chappaqua NY . American Intelligence in the War for Independence. “There is nothing more necessary than good intelligence to frustrate a designing enemy, and nothing that requires greater pains to obtain.”. George Washington.

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American Intelligence in the War for Independence

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By Brett R. AHAP DEF

Horace Greeley HS Chappaqua NY



in the War for



“There is nothing more necessary than good intelligence to frustrate a designing enemy, and nothing that requires greater pains to obtain.”

George Washington

to what extent did espionage and intelligence aid the colonists in the american revolution

Essential Question:

To what extent did espionage and intelligence aid the colonists in the American Revolution?

the mechanics6
The Mechanics
  • 1st known intelligence network in the colonies (for the Patriot side)
  • Also known as the Liberty Boys
  • Sprung from the Sons of Liberty that had grown in opposition to the Stamp Act
  • Surveyed British troop movements and known Tories
  • Stole British supplies and sabotaged their fortifications
famous mechanics
Famous Mechanics
  • Paul Revere: in civilian life, a silversmith and engraver
    • As a Mechanic, acted in gathering information and as a courier
  • Dr. Joseph Warren: a physician and later a major general for the Continental Army
    • Was set to observe British troop movements
  • Dr. Benjamin Church: physician, active member of Sons of Liberty
    • Turned out to be treasonous and jeopardized nearly all of the activities of the spy ring
the midnight ride of paul revere
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
  • Becoming suspicious about British troop activity, Revere designed a system to warn the patriots about an impending attack
  • A single lantern would be lit in the belfry of the Old North Church if the troops decided to attack Concord by land
  • Two would be lit if the attack would come across the Charles River
midnight ride of paul revere
Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
  • Revere was told around 10 P.M. that British troops were preparing for the crossing of the Charles
  • William Dawes was sent along land to warn John Hancock and John Adams of the incoming troops
  • Revere went up the Charles in an effort to distance himself from Dawes
  • He reached Hancock and Adams and was able to warn them, but was later arrested

Paul Revere’s Route

midnight ride of paul revere10
Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
  • Having been arrested, Revere fed the British false information and provided them with information greatly exaggerating the strength of the patriot troops
  • Fearing for their safety, the British let Revere go
  • Revere joined Hancock and Adams in the countryside, but frantically returned to Lexington in order to recover documents that Hancock had left there
  • He safely recovered them, thus warning the populace (he never made it to Concord, but his accomplice, Joseph Prescott did), saving two important leaders, and preserving confidential documents
how effective were the mechanics
How effective were the Mechanics?
  • Paul Revere’s Ride was most well known and effective task
  • Group was rendered ineffective for several reasons:
    • Poor security: group always met at Green Dragon Tavern, revealed the names of group members
    • Dr. Benjamin Church, one of the most highly regarded members, was a double agent for the British, thus compromising all of the activities of the group
the treachery of benjamin church
The Treachery of Benjamin Church

A coded letter from Dr. Church to Maurice Cane, a British contact

the treachery of benjamin church13
The Treachery of Benjamin Church

Letter to Major Cane Decoded

To Major Cane in Boston,

The people of Connecticut are raving in the cause of liberty. A number from this colony, from the town of Stanford [Stamford], robbed the King's stores at New York with some small assistance the New Yorkers lent them. These were growing turbulent. I counted 280 pieces of cannon from 24 to 3 pounders at Kingsbridge which the committee had secured for the use of the colonies.

the treachery of benjamin church14
The Treachery of Benjamin Church

Letter to Major Cane Decoded, cont.

The Jersies are not a whit behind Connecticut in zeal. The Philadelphians exceed them both. I saw 2200 men in review there by General Lee, consisting of Quakers & other inhabitants in uniform, with 1000 rifle men and 40 horse who together made a most warlike appearance. I mingled freely & frequently with the members of the Continental Congress. They were united, determined in opposition, and appeared assured of success.

contribution of the mechanics to war for independence
Contribution of the Mechanics to War for Independence
  • Paul Revere’s ride
    • Warned prominent leaders of impending danger
    • Saved confidential documents
  • Laid groundwork for intelligence network: more effective rings would appear later
    • Awakened the Americans to the importance of espionage
george washington
George Washington
  • Not only the father of our country, Washington proved to be the father of our country’s spy system
  • Washington deployed numerous spies throughout the colonies during the war, valuing the information that they could provide him
  • He oversaw the vast network that was created, thus establishing himself as the “spymaster”
george washington18
George Washington
  • Learned the value of good intelligence during the French and Indian War
    • He and General Braddock were ambushed along the Monongahela River
    • The French had been tipped off that they were coming and the British had been caught unawares
    • Would not be put in the same position again
the value of intelligence to washington
The Value of Intelligence to Washington
  • General Beckworth, head of British Intelligence, later stated:

Washington did not really outfight the British, he simply outspied us!

  • 10% of the Continental Army’s military funding was put towards espionage
  • Two weeks after taking control of the army, he paid a man $333 to go down to Boston and begin recruiting a network of spies, the start of Washington’s intelligence community
john honeyman and the battle of trenton
John Honeyman and the Battle of Trenton
  • Was a spy recruited for specific purpose: to provide information on the British winter quarters at Trenton
  • In fall of 1776, moves to New Brunswick, NJ and begins life as a cattle farmer
  • Sells meat to British troops, so he is publicly viewed as a British supporter
honeyman and trenton cont
Honeyman and Trenton, cont.
  • December 22nd, 1776: Washington “arrests” Honeyman
  • While being detained, he reveals to Washington that the British had returned to New York City leaving only the Hessians
    • He also provided maps of the incomplete and weakly defended fortifications

British map and description of the winter quarters at Trenton

honeyman and trenton cont24
Honeyman and Trenton, cont.
  • Honeyman “escaped” from Washington and quickly reported back to the Hessians
    • He informed them that Washington’s army was in no way prepared to fight; lulled them into a sense of security
  • With the aid of Honeyman’s information and his counter-intelligence,Washington crossed the Delaware River and attacked Trenton on Christmas Day

Emmanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware

contribution of honeyman to the war for independence
Contribution of Honeyman to the War for Independence
  • Effective use of intelligence and counterintelligence
    • He both supplied Washington with information and deceived the Hessians with false facts
  • The Battle of Trenton
    • Washington’s forces had the element of total surprise, leading them to a victory with very few casualties
    • Morale was boosted: until then, the Continental Congress was losing faith in Washington and his enlistments were running out
    • The battle, though not pivotal by military standards, was essential to the American psyche and to helping to unite the colonies behind the revolution
the culper ring27
The Culper Ring
  • Great success and influence on modern espionage
  • Very secretive
    • Even Washington did not know all their true identities
  • Created when Washington sent a letter to Benjamin Tallmadge in 1778, asking him to create a spy network in British held New York City
    • In it, he urges “Culper Jr.” (Robert Townsend) to remain in the employ of a newspaper and dry goods store
letter from george washington to behjamin tallmadge
Letter from George Washington to Behjamin Tallmadge

It is not my opinion, that Culper junior should be advised to give up his present employment. I would imagine that with a little industry, he will be able to carry on his intelligence with greater security to himself and greater advantages to us, under cover of his usual business, than if he were to dedicate himself wholly to the giving of information.

letter from george washington to behjamin tallmadge30
Letter from George Washington to Behjamin Tallmadge

It may afford him opportunities of collecting intelligence, that he could not derive so well in any other manner. It prevents also those suspicions which would become natural should he throw himself out of the line in his present employment. He may rest assured of every proper attention being paid to his services.”

the culper ring31
The Culper Ring
  • Known members: Robert Townsend, Aaron Woodhull, Austin Roe, Anna Strong, Caleb Brewster, Benjamin Tallmadge
  • Known collectively as “Samuel Culper”
  • Most profitable member: Townsend
    • Worked as a Newspaper reporter and owned a dry goods store
      • Both helped him befriend various contacts
the culper ring compromised
The Culper Ring Compromised
  • Very intricate scheme to pass along information
    • Sometimes too complex: June 27th, 1779 a letter from Washington never reached Tallmadge
      • Tried to warn him about incoming British troops
  • Luckily, the letter was in code so no members were revealed
    • However, the name “George Higday” appeared
      • He was to be a new member of the ring, but after this incident, George Washington refused to use him, fearing compromising the entire ring
letter from george washington to benjamin tallmadge june 27 th 177934
Letter from George Washington to Benjamin Tallmadge- June 27th, 1779

Sir,  Your letter of yesterday came safe to my hand, and by the Dragoon who was the bearer of it I send you Ten guineas for C---r. His successor (whose name I have no desire to be informed of provided his intelligence is good, & seasonably transmitted) should endeavor to his upon some certain mode of conveying his information quickly, for it is of little avail to be told of things after they have become matter of public notoriety, and known to every body. This new agent should communicate his signature and the private marks by which genuine papers are to be distinguished from counterfeits.

letter from george washington to benjamin tallmadge june 27 th 177935
Letter from George Washington to Benjamin Tallmadge- June 27th, 1779

There is a man on York Island living on or near the North River, of the name of George Higday who I am told hath given signal proofs of his attachment to us, & at the same time stands well with the enemy. -- If upon inquiry this is found to be the case (and much caution should be used in investigating the matter, as well as on his own account as on that of Higday) he will be a fit instrument to convey intelligence to me while I am on the west side of the North River, as he is enterprising and connected with people in Bergen County who will assist in forming a chain to me, in any manner they shall agree on.

the culper ring and john andre
The Culper Ring and John Andre
  • Most famous treachery against Americans: Benedict Arnold
    • Betrayed information aboutWest Point to the British
  • Major John Andre was his


    • After meeting with Arnold,Andre was detained by anAmerican officer and sentto speak to the commandingofficer: Benedict Arnold

John Andre

the culper ring and john andre37
The Culper Ring and John Andre
  • Tallmadge, upon hearing the news, urged the deployment of an armed force to catch Andre before he met with Arnold
    • This was successful, as Andre was caught and hung by the Continental Army
  • The details surrounding these events are very fuzzy, as Tallmadge himself wrote that he deliberately concluded never to disclose the circumstances which relate to that interesting event.

The Capturing of Major John Andre

letter from andre to arnold39
Letter from Andre to Arnold

Sir, Although I think we understood each other clearly this morning and nothing was omitted which I could have to say on the Subject; it is, or may be, of too much importance not to take further pains that all may be perfectly well comprehended-- On our part we meet ArnGen (crossed out) Monk's overtures with full reliance on his honourable Intentions and disclose to him with the strongest assurances of our Sincerity, that no thought is entertained of abandoning the point we have in view. That on the Contrary powerful means are expected for accomplishing our end.

contributions of the culper ring to the war for independence
Contributions of the Culper Ring to the War for Independence
  • Was the first modern ring in America
    • Used codes, invisible ink and dead drops for security
      • So secretive that “Culper Jr.” (Townsend) was not revealed until the 20th century
    • Deployed spies with specific purposes
    • Involved route for delivery of information
  • Lead to the capture of Major Andre and the exposure of Benedict Arnold
  • Was an intelligence stronghold in British-held New York City
    • Through Townsend’s newspaper business and dry goods store, the group had access to British contacts
james armistead42
James Armistead
  • Armistead was an escaped Virginia slave
  • With the permission of his master, he joined the forces of Marquis de Lafayette
    • He was so enamored of Lafayette, that he later adopted the Frenchman’s name as his own last name
  • Pretending to escape from the Americans, he joined General Cornwallis’ army

Lafayette and Armistead

james amistead
James Amistead
  • Amistead convinced Cornwallis that he had escaped and was ready to be a British agent
  • He provided him with information about a fake troop of soldiers, after soiling the paper so that he could pretend he found it on the road
  • He was thus able to gain entry to the British command, and provide Lafayette with plans
  • The Virginia state legislature later voted to grant him his freedom as thanks for his services
testimonial by lafayette45
Testimonial by Lafayette

This is to certify that the bearer by the name of James has done essential services to me while I had the honour to command in this state.  His intelligences from the enemy’s camp were industriously collected and faithfully delivered. He perfectly acquitted himself with some important commissions  I gave him and appears to me entitled to every reward his situation can admit of.  Done under my hand, Richmond, November 21st, 1784.                   -- Lafayette

contributions of james armistead to the war for independence
Contributions of James Armistead to the War for Independence
  • Provided Lafayette with invaluable information as to British troop movements
    • Armistead was so effective that Cornwallis did not discover the treachery until after the Battle of Yorktown
  • Continued spying throughout the Battle of Yorktown, sending information to Lafayette important to the cause of victory
  • Was a victory for slaves, asserting their intelligence
    • This did not cause any wide sweeping changes, but it did open people’s eyes